In 2016 a pair of Queen Victoria’s underpants sold for a whopping £16,250 at auction. £16,250 is a lot of money for a pair of knickers so it's not surprising this sale made the news. This is not the first time the queen’s underwear has been in the headlines though.
Back in 1838 a teenager called Edward Jones managed to sneak into Buckingham Palace. Jones was only 14 at the time and was described as an ugly urchin who didn’t wash. Not really how you would imagine someone who was able to break into the Palace numerous times.
Jones entered the Palace for the first time in 1838, one year into Queen Victoria’s reign. At the time it was guarded by a mix of porters, police and guards but Jones managed to squeeze himself through a hole in the Marble Arch (which at this time was outside Buckingham Palace). Once inside the Palace he was able to move around, having disguised himself as a chimney sweep covered in soot and bear grease.
He wasn’t detected until he entered the marble hall where a porter tried to capture him. Jones was then chased from Buckingham Palace and caught some streets away, where they found on his person a pair of the queen’s underpants... stuffed down his trousers! He had also stolen some letters between The Queen and the Honourable Charles Augustus Murray, who was the master of the household at the time. This was not the only thing that was found after Jones' little adventure in the Palace. In the lobby, they also found a bunch of linen and a regimental sword belonging to Murray.
Jones was taken to Queen Square Police Court. At first he lied about who he was, claiming that he was from Hertfordshire and had been working at the Palace for about a year. It later came out that he was the son of a tailor from Westminster and was working for a builder. His boss informed the police that Jones had frequently said that he wanted to enter the Palace to see the Queen and hear what happened when she met with her Council. Jones was lucky that at his trial his solicitor was able to downplay what happened as silly youthful exploits. Jones was found not guilty.
You might think that Jones would now, after such a lucky escape, carry on with his life and avoid the Palace. He didn’t. He went back.
On Thursday 3 December 1840, Jones was again caught in Buckingham Palace. A nurse heard a noise and he was found hidden under the sofa in the Queen’s dressing room. When the police arrived they recognised him as the young man who had entered the Palace previously.
He acted very loftily, asking the police to 'address him in a becoming manner'. This time there was a bigger stir than before, as the Queen had given birth to her first child 10 days earlier in the room next to the one he was hiding in and had been sitting on that very sofa not two hours earlier. It was also five months after the attempted assassination of the Queen by Edward Oxford, so everyone was very wary of any possible threats to Her Majesty.
This time around Jones' trial was held in private by the Privy Council. He gave two versions of how he got into the palace.
The first was that he entered through a window on Monday but that it was too busy in the Palace so he left, so he re-entered the building on Tuesday evening. He stayed in the Palace Tuesday night, and all day Wednesday, until he was caught in the early hours of Thursday. Jones changed his story the next day saying that he had actually entered from the roof by coming down the chimney, although this story was not believed as there was no evidence of soot in the rooms.
He explained that he was able to move around the Palace and enter the Queen’s rooms by hiding under different pieces of furniture and thus slowly make his way around. He told the Council that while in the Palace he was able to sit on the Queen’s throne and had heard the baby Princess cry. When asked why he had entered the building again Jones stated that he wanted to see what was happening in the Palace so he could write about it. He also thought that if he was caught, he would be able to make money from the notoriety as Edward Oxford, who was found not guilty due to insanity, was living quite well in 'Bedlam'; London's famous lunatic asylum.
During Jones' interrogation he was made to go on the 'treadmill' - a form of corporal punishment in the British penal system - to extract more information, but this didn’t work. Jones' father tried to plead on his behalf that he was insane. They didn’t believe it, deciding Jones was simply a very odd young man, and he was sent to a house of correction for three months as 'a rogue and a vagabond'.
This second entry to the Palace seemed to have caught the public’s attention. He was referred to as 'The boy Jones' and as 'In-I-go Jones' after the well-known landscaper Inigo Jones. Many felt that he got off very lightly and that the punishment would not be a great deterrent.
Before Jones was released they tried to persuade him to join the navy, hoping that this would prevent him from reoffending. He didn’t want to go to sea so they asked him to promise that he would not try to enter the Palace again. With surprising honesty he said he would not be able to promise this as his 'curiosity was so great'. Having done what they could to try to get him to stop they had to release him into the care of his parents. He was on his best behaviour for a short while, attending church and even considering joining a temperance society, which encouraged people to abandon the evils of alcohol. This would turn out to be quite ironic given Jones' later life.
Thirteen days later 'In-I-go' was at it again. After the previous incidents extra police officers were brought into the Palace, and it was one of these sergeants who caught Jones once again sneaking around the Royal apartments. He was found helping himself to some meat and potatoes! When questioned, Jones informed them that he was able to get in the same way as before and that he could do so whenever he wanted.
As before, Jones said the reason he had entered was so that he could hear what was said in court and write about it. Again the trial was held in private by the Privy Council and the same punishment was dished out, but this time with the addition of hard labour. This third incident was also met with a great deal of concern, so another three guards were placed at Buckingham Palace.
Three times he has broken in and three times he had been caught. Would he do it again?
It seems not; if Jones ever did enter the Palace again he was never caught doing it. although that doesn't mean he didn't try. When he was released for the second time he was offered money to appear on stage at a music hall but he turned down the offer. After this, he was caught hanging around near the Palace and this time greater measures were taken.
Jones was forced to join the Navy and sent to sea. After a year away his ship came into Portsmouth for repair, where he went AWOL and walked back to London. He was arrested and sent back to his ship. This time he was kept in the Navy for six years, was not allowed to resign his post and was watched closely.
In 1844 he was mentioned in a letter to The Times. He had been rescued in the Mediterranean Sea after falling overboard, although according to officers on the ship he jumped overboard so that he could see the lights on the lifebuoy. After his release for the Navy he became an alcoholic and burglar. He was sent to Australia where he sold pies for a living but found a way back to Britain, where he was again arrested for theft. He was persuaded by his brother in Australia to come back, and he eventually found a job as the town crier for Perth. He changed his name to Thomas Jones to try to escape his notoriety and died, aged 70, after falling off a bridge while drunk.
Edward Jones was a difficult problem for the government. He was a strange character that they couldn’t understand. He was not actually breaking and entering and, other than the time he made off with the Queen's drawers, was not stealing so it was difficult knowing how he should be punished.
It was also a worry that while hiding in the Palace he might have heard or seen things that he shouldn’t have. This might be why the second and third trials were held in private, so that Jones would not say something publicly that was meant to be private. Another problem was that the authorities were not sure of his reasons for entering the Palace. Was it an obsession with the Queen? Would he hurt her or anyone else? The government and police’s hands were tied, which might be why they resorted to forcing him into the navy, thus holding him prisoner without a trial for over six years. The security was strengthened at the Palace and there was not another unwanted entry during Queen Victoria's reign. Amazingly, it actually didn’t become illegal to enter Buckingham Palace without permission until 2007.